A Martian Bat
(from King of the Cheap Romance by Joe R. Lansdale)
What happened was this.
The fever hit the Far Side, as we called the city long beyond the mountains. The Martian fever is a nasty beast. It comes on sudden and hot and burns the mind right out of a person, turns them red, mounds up pus-filled lesions quick-time, makes a person quiver, scream and rave, go completely off their nut.
No one really knew how it gets started, but it happened now and then, comes out of nowhere like rain from a clear, sunny sky. It was thought to have something to do with certain kinds of Martian water, melted snow that flowed down out of the mountains and joined up in streams and creeks that got into the water supply. Mars was mostly hot, dry desert, but up around the ice caps it was rich in water, cold and savage.
Though the fever was brutal, there was a cure, and it was mighty effective, if not readily available. That’s what my father and I were trying to do, make it available…
What I think about is how if we’d have left a few second earlier, or a few seconds later, none of it might have happened.
But there we were with first light on the windshield, then the shield turned dark, and there was a whomp, a sound like some kind of machine tearing metal. It wasn’t metal though. It wasn’t the ship. It was the scream of the Martian Bat. The damn things are huge, and, unlike Earth bats, which Dad says travel by night, Martian Bats travel day and night but are blind, their eyes huge and white as snow.
They are guided by some kind of in-built radar. That radar helps them find prey, and I guess the bat thought we were one of the great blue birds that fly over the ice, for it came at us and let out with its horrid scream that sounded like metal ripping. The craft twisted and swirled, but held to the sky all right, at least until the bat bit us and clawed us and we started to come apart.
The craft killed the bat due to the collision of its wings or part of the beast’s being sucked into a turbine. Whatever did it, we both went down. I remember seeing out the windshield a glimpse of bat’s wings, a near subliminal glimpse of those white eyes and that toothy mouth. The front end of the ship bent up, and down we went. Had the bat not had hold of us, had what was left of its massive wings not held and glided, we would have dropped faster than a stone and with the sudden impact of ripe fruit being slammed on rocks…
A Martian Bat. Illustration : Univers.GrandQuebec.com